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Fransen, L. and LeBaron, G. orcid.org/0000-0003-0083-6126 (2018) Big audit firms as
regulatory intermediaries in transnational labor governance. Regulation and Governance.
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rms as regulatory intermediaries
in transnational labor governance
Department of Political Science, University of Amsterdam, Amsterdam, Netherlands
Department of Politics, University of Shefﬁeld, Shefﬁeld, UK
Due diligence and corporate disclosure initiatives effectively expand the role of professional serviceﬁrms as regulatory inter-mediaries in the governance of conditions of production in global supply chains. In this paper, we examine the rise of the“Big
Four”auditﬁrms in the market for services connected to transnational labor governance. Through a qualitative case study of
auditﬁrms in modern slavery governance, we argue that the Big Four’s political repertoire for transnational labor governance
expands beyond the roles that are typically linked to their services, and promotes an agenda that touches on key debates on what constitutes proper transnational labor governance. Big auditﬁrms engage in a variety of informal and covert inﬂuencing practices and are shown to promote an agenda of incrementalist soft-law labor governance, opposing concrete performance targets, binding public regulation and an independent watchdog role for civil society.
Keywords:auditing, labor, regulatory intermediary, slavery, transnational governance.
A recent innovation in the study of regulatory governance, scholars have emphasized the importance of so-called intermediaries in the evolution of regulation (Abbottet al. 2017). Rather than focusing on takers and rule-makers, the actors involved as go-betweens in the regulatory process are theorized to have signiﬁcant inﬂuence on regulation. An important class of organizations involved in such intermediary roles includes professional for-proﬁt organizations that specialize in consultancy and assurance. And chief among these in today’s global
economy are the “Big Four” Audit ﬁrms (Ernst & Young [EY], KPMG, Deloitte, and Pricewaterhouse
This paper focuses on the role of the Big Four as intermediaries. We seek to contribute to the regulatory intermediary literature in two ways. First, while we agree with extant literature that we should theorize, in partic-ular, for-proﬁt intermediaries as seeking to inﬂuence regulatory processes out of self-interest in a market for their services, weﬁnd that this assumption alone is insufﬁcient to determine what positions intermediaries effectively advance when seeking to inﬂuence regulation. As of yet, for instance, the literature is undecided on whether we should view serviceﬁrm activities as advancing privatized and soft-law or public and hard-law modes of business regulation. We therefore promote the question of what an intermediary’s political agenda is in inﬂuencing
regula-tion as an empirical issue. Second, we ﬁnd that particularly when intermediaries seek to inﬂuence regulation through“unofﬁcial”and “non-formal”channels emphasized in this Special Issue (see Brèset al. 2018,
forthcom-ing), their political behavior is more varied and extensive than the current literature posits. Indeed, we hold that many of the ways in which actors involved in intermediary roles seek to secure their position lie outside of the roles assigned to them as intermediaries in regulatory governance (cf. Kourula et al. 2018). This enhances the importance of our previous point, about getting to know better the preferences of auditﬁrms when they inﬂuence regulatory processes.
Correspondence: Genevieve LeBaron, Department of Politics, University of Shefﬁeld Elmﬁeld Building, Northumberland Road Shefﬁeld S102TU, UK. Email: g.lebaron@shefﬁeld.ac.uk
Accepted for publication 22 August 2018.
© 2018 The Authors. Regulation & Governance Published by John Wiley & Sons Australia, Ltd
Our paper focuses empirically on the Big Four’s activities in the realm of multistakeholder regulation of
trans-national labor governance. The study of intermediaries is very welcome in this realm of regulatory governance, as it is home to a varied group of organizations functioning as intermediaries that could affect regulation (O’Rourke
2000; Locke et al. 2007; Esbenshade 2009). Next to this, we observe that the advance of due diligence further widens the space for intermediary actors affecting regulation–particularly in the realm of modern slavery
regula-tion, which is the main focus of our study.
We therefore start off with the following research question:What describes the formal and informal inﬂ uenc-ing practices and regulatory preferences of big auditﬁrms in the realm of modern slavery governance?
We ﬁnd that the Big Four’s inﬂuencing activities extend their roles as translators, mediators, implementers,
and monitors so far emphasized in the literature (Brès & Gond 2014; Ghadiriet al. 2015). We particularly iden-tify signiﬁcant unformalized and unofﬁcial inﬂuencing practices, through the lobbying and collective action-oriented activities of the Big Four (cf. Brèset al. 2018, forthcoming). Auditﬁrms seek to inﬂuence governmental regulators, private regulators,ﬁrms, and stakeholder groups in various stages of the private regulatory policy pro-cess. Moreover, they are able to do so because of the combinations of their roles as experts, assurance providers, and informal spokespersons for clientﬁrms.
Second, we ﬁnd that the Big Four’s involvement in policymaking processes toward modern slavery serves
their core interest of expanding their markets, but that an agenda for modern slavery governance that effectively advances a service market for the Big Four can still take various forms, and policy options advocated by the Big Four may have important political ramiﬁcations beyond the issue of service ﬁrm positioning. We demonstrate that representatives of one of the Big Fourﬁrms most deeply engaged in modern slavery governance has pro-moted incrementalism, soft-law governance, business roles in regulation, and partnership between civil society parties and businesses, with important consequences for transnational labor governance. Conversely, auditﬁrms oppose the imposition of concrete performance targets, binding public regulation and an independent watchdog role for civil society.
In the next section of this paper, we introduce our perspective on auditﬁrms as regulatory intermediaries in relation to existing theories. Section 2 discusses our methodological approach, after which we present our empiri-cal data on the role of the Big Four in labor governance beginning in Section 3, which presents data relevant to theﬁrst half of our research question, describing the political behavior of all four audit ﬁrms. In Section 4, we focus our attention on audit ﬁrms’ political agenda through an in-depth case study of one ﬁrm’s agenda and
activities with regard to modern slavery governance (Deloitte). Aﬁnal section concludes.
1. Auditﬁrms as regulatory intermediaries
A diverse body of literature studies corporate policies to promote sustainable production in global supply chains. Literature emphasizes efforts to createprivate regulation: groups of predominantly non-state actors setting stan-dards that are voluntary in the legal sense, describe proper business conduct in global production, and to which industry players are expected to conform.
Analysts interested in the evolving politics of private regulation, broadly construed, have mostly focused on the political attitudes and activities of businesses as rulemakers and rule-takers (Marx 2008; Berliner & Prakash 2015), as well as to the private regulatory organizations themselves (Auld 2014; Mena & Suddaby 2016), to non-governmental organizations (NGOs) as stakeholder groups and co-regulators (Bartley 2007; Mena & Waeger 2014; cf. Gerefﬁet al. 2001), and to governments as co-regulators or parties creating policies and legislation that affect private regulations (Abbott & Snidal 2010; Gulbrandsen 2014).
Meanwhile, next to these relevant actors and institutions, the service ﬁrm industry has evolved to assistﬁrms to develop private regulatory commitments, while being granted a role to assess business conformity with private rules. This service market includesﬁrms engaging in strategic consultancy, assuring corporate social responsibility (CSR) reporting, and auditing production sites. A subset of literature has begun to take stock of these activities (cf. O’Rourke 2000; Pruettet al. 2005; Blair et al. 2007; Green 2008; Bouteligier 2011; Dingwerth & Eichinger
Abbottet al. (2017), meanwhile, call attention to serviceﬁrms as belonging to the actor category ofregulatory intermediary(cf. Levi Faur & Starobin 2014), as an attempt to systematically capture the signiﬁcance of actors that are not themselves directly rulemakers or rule-takers. In this perspective, serviceﬁrms initially enter into reg-ulatory support roles on the basis of their operational capacity, perceived expertise, and independence, but may increasingly be invited into processes of regulatory revision to offer insights based on experience (cf. Lytton 2017).
Abbott et al. develop the regulator–intermediary–target (RIT) model to explore the signiﬁcance of this
actor role, and its consequence for regulation. In their model, they put the intermediary front and center in discussion over regulatory processes, claiming that intermediaries operationalize, diffuse, and modify rules and practices of both regulators and targets. They then discuss the different ways in which the intermediary can inﬂuence regulation, either as an actor with its own agenda or through capture by the regulator or the regulatory target.
Other authors working in this vein, meanwhile, suggest that some serviceﬁrms will be able to act as interme-diaries in several regulatory policy processes at once, and will thereby be in a position to exploit these positions to their own advantage (cf. Galland 2017; Havinga & Verbruggen 2017). As for the for-proﬁt intermediary’s
inter-est in inﬂuencing regulation, most authors assume that the service industry’s main stake in regulation is payment
for service, maintenance or expansion of the market of this service, and protection of the intermediary’s main
modus operandi (Abbott et al. 2017, p. 28; Galland 2017). In this sense, the authors advance an argument that resonates with economic sociology about how markets are constituted by rules, and market and rulemaking behavior are in constant interaction with one another (Granovetter 1985; Fligstein 1996).1
We seek to add to this understanding of for-proﬁt organizations as regulatory intermediaries in two ways. First, inductively, our study reveals that intermediaryﬁrms exhibit political behavior indeed targeted at inﬂuencing regulatory processes, but a signiﬁcant amount of this behavior is outside of their ofﬁcial assigned roles as interme-diaries. In other words, audit ﬁrms do not only seek to inﬂuence regulation via the assisting, translating, and assuring roles formally expected from them (cf. Kourulaet al. 2018). In line with the conceptualization suggested in the Introduction to this Special Issue (Brès et al. 2018, forthcoming), we identify signiﬁcant informal political behavior of intermediary organizations, both in terms of unofﬁcial and unformalized practices. Unofﬁcial behavior includes covert lobbying toward rule-takers by intermediaries. Unformal practices include “steering” attempts,
such as aligning rule-takers and rulemakers on a shared regulatory agenda (cf. Bothello & Mehrpouya 2018). The literature on lobbying2 helps us to make sense of these activities as it points us toward the following recurring phenomena, in particular, with regard to the political behavior of serviceﬁrms: serviceﬁrms are often hired by rule-takers as professional lobbyists toward rulemakers as they have political know-how and connec-tions, and therefore function as agents in service of clientﬁrms (Wonkaet al. 2010); serviceﬁrms lobby on their own behalf with regard to their intermediary position in regulatory processes and make in-kind contributions in the form of personnel toward regulators and regulatory targets (Hall & Miler 2008); and serviceﬁrms that engage in intermediary roles may also engage in collective action seeking to involve regulatory beneﬁciaries and align them toward pre-set goals (Coen 1999).
This means that auditﬁrms, as they engage in formal and informal regulatory intermediation because of their size and network, in particular, have the potential for a signiﬁcant political repertoire and many different political channels through which to shape regulation. We therefore posit that the RIT model basically accurately describes an auditﬁrm’s position toward regulation as intermediaries, but the character, variety, and intensity of the
possi-ble interactions between the Big Four on the one hand, and regulators, targets, and beneﬁciaries on the other, deserves speciﬁc attention for anyone interested in the evolution of regulation, as it implies signiﬁcant power for this intermediary actor. If it is true, meanwhile, that big auditﬁrms are expanding their role as regulatory inter-mediaries in issue areas like labor governance (which we posit), then this observation is of both theoretical and societal importance, in particular, to those engaging in thisﬁeld of multistakeholder regulation.
Our second contribution to the literature pertains to its understanding of a for-proﬁt organization’s interest
and agenda in inﬂuencing regulation. We concur with the position advanced in studies so far thatﬁrms in inter-mediary roles are self-interested in terms of the market for their interinter-mediary services (cf. Bouteligier 2011; Brès & Gond 2014; Abbottet al. 2017). But this observation alone is insufﬁcient to determine an intermediary’s agenda
Nowadays, multistakeholder regulation may vary in terms of scope, degree of transparency, hard-law quality and precision of rules, and the inclusiveness and accountability of regulatory processes (Fransen & Kolk 2007; cf. Auld & Gulbrandsen 2010). All of these dimensions of regulation have implications for how intermediation takes place and may as such be interesting for regulatory intermediary actors to attempt to inﬂuence. And we may ostensibly expect inﬂuencing practices geared at all of these from regulatory intermediaries. But this inter-mediary’s self-interest as such does not yet inform what for-proﬁt intermediary actors prefer for these policies.
Particularly, when big auditﬁrms act as intermediaries it may be that across the most likely regulatory designs to evolve, their role is secured: as assurers, and/or advisors for rulemakers, rule-takers, and/or beneﬁciaries. In this spirit, Blairet al. (2007), for instance, discussed the rising inﬂuence of assurance providers in the global economy. They posit that one logical position is to consider the impact of these serviceﬁrms as privatizing regulation, with service ﬁrms contributing to the bypassing of government as a regulator. From a self-serving perspective, this could indeed be a policy position that service ﬁrms would advocate toward regulators, observing that in fact many of their current and potential clients among retailers and brands would subscribe to this position. But next to this, by contrast, Blairet al. (2007) alsoﬁnd that theseﬁrms may contribute to the development of formal legal institutions spurring the public enforcement of labor and environmental standards. Initial private procedures to which serviceﬁrms contribute may raise the appetite for binding public law by business and civil society as a way of leveling the playingﬁeld. Serviceﬁrms may also advocate for this position toward regulators, knowing that it will serve their position.
If audit ﬁrmsdoput their weight behind a particular regulatory policy proposal, however, their rich political repertoire and possible channels of inﬂuence may serve to signiﬁcantly inﬂuence what regulation looks like. In other words, the current literature on regulatory intermediaries leaves us with an underdetermined theory of reg-ulatory intermediaries’policy preferences in regulation.
Here, too, the literature on lobbying inspires our approach, next to studies of accounting and audit ﬁrm behavior more generally. It suggests that we should take identiﬁcation of a serviceﬁrm’s agenda in inﬂuencing a
regulatory approach asa matter of empirical inquiryrather than as something one can deduce ex ante as many classical studies of regulation have done (cf. Stigler 1971). For a set of reasons, this has to do with different strate-gies when engaging in inﬂuencing practice: as noted above, the big auditﬁrms engage both in lobbying on their own behalf, and as an intermediary lobbying service for other private and public interests (Wonkaet al. 2010), and the two may be empirically difﬁcult to disentangle in practice; serviceﬁrms may engage with regulatory pro-cesses and even lobby in favor of certain policy proposals because they seek to gain political capital from rule-takers and/or rulemakers and/or beneﬁciaries as these engage in policymaking (Woll 2007a; cf. Puro 1984) –
rather than because of their keen interest in the policy position at hand; and serviceﬁrms may have policy prefer-ences that change while lobbying on regulation (Woll 2007b).
If we focus on labor issues, and particularly the area of forced labor and slavery, we identify several conten-tious issues in the institutional design of transnational governance that policymakers and academics alike debate. For instance, the degree to which rules for multinational corporations regarding their supply chains should be binding and hard-law or voluntary and soft-law (Hensler & Blasi 2013; Reinecke & Donaghey 2015); whether due diligence should be mandatory or voluntary; how deep within the supply chain due diligence should extend (LeBaron 2014); the degree to which multinationals themselves should engage in rulemaking on proper business conduct with regard to labor issues in supply chains, or leave rulemaking to governmental parties (Bartley 2003); the degree to which multinationals should be committed to concrete and observable performance targets in addressing labor abuse, rather than commit to continuous improvement in their supply chains (Fransen 2012); the degree of speciﬁcity that should be required in company disclosure statements about the risks of forced labor and measures taken to address it; and the degree to which NGOs should function as partners of multinational corporations in their quest to ban labor abuse from their supply chains, rather than as critical watchdogs of these companies (O’Rourke 2006; Esbenshade 2009; cf. Dauvergne & LeBaron 2014).
tradeoffs. Advancing stringent and complex regulation may, for instance, be beneﬁcial for a serviceﬁrm’s position
as assurance provider –but this position may decrease its popularity with ﬁrms subject to this regulation, who
may be important clients for other services. How serviceﬁrms will seek to affect policy debates, given their bene-ﬁcial position at the crossroads of various policy processes, actors, and interests, is therefore not evidenta priori, and deserving of further study. While an empirical discussion of corporate motivations and business interest pos-siblyunderlyingthese activities and positions is interesting and relevant, we deem it for now untenable to demon-strate these motivations and interests given the difﬁculty of access to reliable data. We instead propose that aﬁrst signiﬁcant step in expanding our understanding will be to focus on observed behavior in terms of audit ﬁrm political activities and substantive policy position-taking and discuss such behavior in light of prevailing discus-sions about transnational labor governance.
We examine the political activities and agendas of serviceﬁrms by looking at the activities of the Big Four audit ﬁrms in the context of private regulation and CSR activities. These audit ﬁrms have high operational capacity and available expertise for service provision. As a result of their many strategic consultancy and auditing func-tions and the high degree of market concentration, the Big Four–in comparison to other service ﬁrms, such as
smaller CSR-oriented consultancy operations –have a disproportionally strong network in a variety of business
communities, as well as policy communities, on which they may draw to advance their respective agendas. Learn-ing more about their activities is therefore ﬁrst and foremost substantively relevant. Moreover, their privileged position in the global economy also makes them an extreme case for studying a variety of service ﬁrm political inﬂuencing strategies, thereby serving our analytical interest in describing service ﬁrms’ political activities more
fully and accurately. Because the Big Four are relatively more transparent in terms of their operations and corpo-rate stcorpo-rategies than other service ﬁrm categories, they also serve as useful case studies, in light of our interest in describing serviceﬁrm political agendas.
We examine the activities of the Big Four particularly in the context of transnational labor governance, understood here to include a diverse set of regulatory activities devoted to enforcing labor standards across bor-ders, includingﬁrms’CSR policies, private regulatory organizations, public–private hybrid governance
organiza-tions, as well as a host of governmental and intergovernmental initiatives that seek to shape business conduct. Our unit of analysis is the auditﬁrm, and we focus on labor as an issue area for reasons of substantive relevance, and because it is a broad enoughﬁeld to enable considerable observations on serviceﬁrm activities.
Our empirical discussion of the Big Four’s activities and agendas in transnational labor governance is ﬁrst
based on a 2016 baseline descriptive policy document analysis, issued from publicly available corporate documen-tation. Next to this we examine the possible interventions of the Big Four in labor-focused CSR activities through policy documentation of a sample of 25 ﬁrms active in the United Kingdom (UK). Our research also encom-passes material provided by government agencies that sheds light on the Big Four’s efforts to inﬂuence public
governance through ﬁnancial contributions (e.g. UK Electoral Commission records), lobbying efforts (e.g. UK Ofﬁce of the Registrar of Consultant Lobbyists), and involvement in private regulation and standard-setting (e.g. UN Global Compact Guidance Note on Human Rights Policies for Business) since 2010.
We gathered documentary sources through a three-step process. First, we conducted a comprehensive and wide-ranging review of relevant government and international organization websites to identify relevant agencies and initiatives with a view toward collecting evidence of the Big Four’s inﬂuencing activities. Second, the search
was expanded to incorporate online resources, such as broader registers of CSR legislation and activities, global and regional initiatives, and reports from organizations working in the area of labor governance and supply chains. Finally, to supplement the documentation unearthed through these searches, we conducted detailed searches on the Big Four’s websites. The documentation identiﬁed through this broader sampling strategy was
then tested against the criteria of relevance to our research question, as we sought to use these sources to describe the political behavior and agenda of Big Auditﬁrms in inﬂuencing transnational labor governance. Theﬁnal set of documents was systematized and analyzed, using categorical and thematic coding.
to remain anonymous, and pseudonyms have been used where necessary to protect anonymity. We conducted these interviews to triangulate our documentary analysis and ﬁll in potential gaps. Because we were able to gain insights about government regulators and ﬁrms through documentary analysis, while the role of Big Fourﬁrms within policy processes was more difﬁcult to ascertain, our interviews focused on these latter actors. The inter-view data gave us additional insights into impact, including who within the auditﬁrms is involved in inﬂuencing activities, what changes were being promoted, and the impact of audit ﬁrm inﬂuencing activity on policy processes.
Within the ﬁeld of audit ﬁrm interventions in labor governance, we further describe audit ﬁrm strategies through an exemplary case study of Deloitte, speciﬁcally their activities in theﬁeld of transnational modern slav-ery governance. This case study is based on an analysis of Deloitte’s involvement in the societal and regulatory
processes that have yielded an important piece of legislation, the UK Modern Slavery Act (2015), as well as their anti-slavery activities in the wake of this legislation. The case study isﬁrst informed by an analysis of documents published by Deloitte United States (US) and UK between 2009 and 2016 that cast light on the company’s
anti-slavery activities, which includes annual reports, co-authored publications with NGOs, web-based descriptions of events hosted, partnerships, and lobbying efforts. Second, we are informed by interviews conducted with Deloitte employees responsible for modern slavery governance, stakeholder outreach, and client services between May 2016 and April 2017. We selected Deloitte among the other Big Fourﬁrms because ourﬁrst round of documen-tary analysis revealed that Deloitte’s political activities were the most diverse and most revealing for our analytical
purpose of examining auditﬁrm political agendas in more detail.
While our study is not causal in orientation (see the research question), we follow proponents of process trac-ing (particularly Collier 2011) who emphasize the importance of descriptive inference before movtrac-ing to an inves-tigation of causal mechanisms. In the context of our study, we particularly seek to provide descriptive diagnostic evidence of a phenomenon that has so far received little attention in the literature (audit ﬁrm inﬂuencing and agendas), establishing its scope of action and variation in activities (in terms of observable political behavior and positioning), and its occurrence in a particular sequence of events surrounding a policy process. Future research could fruitfully further establish the causal signiﬁcance of this political behavior and agenda.
To gain consistent and accurate insights into our unit of analysis, the Big Four auditﬁrm, we chose to anchor our study in a speciﬁc timeframe (2009–2016) and our investigation of auditﬁrms’political behavior and agenda
on one piece of legislation, the 2015 UK Modern Slavery Act. We selected our timeframe to coincide with the implementation of due diligence frameworks, namely, the UN Guiding Principles for Business and Human Rights, and to end at the time that research began so ourﬁndings could be as up-to-date as possible. Legislative development as a stage of public governance has peculiar features, in terms of access to government for lobbying groups, and is therefore probably not fully representative of inﬂuencing practices by serviceﬁrms toward govern-ment more generally. We choose this phase, however, because it allows for a breadth of observations in terms of possibly existing inﬂuencing practices, and because of the importance of the legislative process for the shape of governance.
We chose to focus on the UK for three reasons. First, discussion of serviceﬁrm activity in the British context is relevant, because the UK is one of the most densely regulated countries in terms of CSR due diligence (Phillips et al. 2018). This country context therefore offers us a wealth of possible observations.3Second, the UK is an early adopter of corporate disclosure legislation, therefore providing rich insights into the activities of audit ﬁrms to inﬂuence transnational labor governance. Third, because our research strategy involved interviews with current employees of the Big Four, concerns about the reliability of our data motivated us to ask our participants ques-tions about which they had the highest likelihood of answering accurately and recalling all relevant information. We therefore chose to focus interview discussions with auditﬁrm employees on recent and relevant policy pro-cesses in which they had been directly involved; namely, the 2015 UK Modern Slavery Act. This legislation was also frequently mentioned in documentary analysis.
3. The Big Four in contemporary transnational labor governance
supply chains. Through such services, the Big Four earned over US$125 billion in combined revenue in 2016 and had over 887,800 employees spread across over 150 countries around the world (Deloitte 2016c; EY 2016; KPMG 2016; PwC 2016). By all measures, the Big Four are major players in the global economy, and their revenues con-tinue to expand.
Throughout the 1990s, a series of mergers reduced the “Big Eight” to the“Big Six,” and then ﬁnally to the “Big Four”after Arthur Andersen collapsed in 2002. Since that time, the Big Fourﬁrms have grown steadily, with
especially high growth over the last few years (Deloitte 2016a; EY 2016; PwC 2016; Rapoport 2016). As the Big Four have grown, their proximity and importance to the world’s other big companies has tightened. In some
arenas, the Big Four hold a near monopoly on the business of the world’s largest companies. For instance, in
2010, Big Four ﬁrms performed the audits of 339 out of 350 of the Financial Times Stock Exchange (FTSE) 350 leading companies (UK Parliament 2011). The Big Four also have powerful public sector clients, ranging from national governments to the world’s leading universities. Indeed, it is fair to assume that if an organization
is making or managing large amounts of money, they are probably clients of the Big Four.
Due diligence guidelines and ﬁnancial disclosure legislation create corporate duties to disclose information on labor, environmental, or human rights impacts in domestic and/or global supply chains. The most notable exam-ple is the UN Guiding Princiexam-ples for Business and Human Rights, which demand corporate transparency on activities to prevent human rights violations. Next to this, corporate disclosure legislation also comes from the US and the UK, and because of its focus on stock-listed ﬁrms, has implications for companies throughout the world. One recent study found that over a dozen pieces of recent national legislation imposing mandatory requirements on companies to disclose labor issues in supply chains have been enacted or amended since 2009 (Phillipset al. 2018). This body of legislation varies with respect to institutional design and levels of stringency; it can be usefully thought of as a continuum, encompassing both“hard” and “soft”legal approaches (LeBaron &
Rühmkorf 2017a,b). As LeBaron and Rühmkorf (2017a,b) have shown, the form that such legislation takes is par-tially determined by the inﬂuence of societal and industry coalitions within domestic regulatory spheres. For instance, the French version of labor-focused disclosure legislation contains penalties to corporations for non-compliance. The 2012 California Act version of due diligence, by contrast, is much more soft-law in orientation and less speciﬁc in its description ofﬁrm obligations. In the UK context, there is both“hard”and“soft”law with
respect to CSR, therefore it is not inevitable that corporate disclosure legislation should take a“soft”law approach
(LeBaron and Rümkorf 2017b).
Both kinds of legislation further advance the role of audit ﬁrms as intermediaries. This manifests in three ways: because of their broad scope, these guidelines and laws have a leveling effect on the corporate playingﬁeld and invite demand for consultancy fromﬁrms new to“the CSR game;”consultancyﬁrms are important players
that can keepﬁrms up to date on evolving government plans regarding new legislation; andﬁrms seeking compli-ance with these regulations create a market for auditﬁrms in veriﬁcation of company claims on disclosure. While harder laws beneﬁt auditﬁrms as they would expect to see an increased demand for consultancy toward brands and retailers complying with such regulation, demand for assuring compliance with regulation, and demand for public relations services on behalf of ﬁrms at regulators, softer laws would also increase auditﬁrm demand for consultancy on and assurance of soft-law norms and PR services toward regulators.
The expansion of transnational labor governance services has helped to fuel the Big Four’s growth. As we
document, Big Fourﬁrms have expanded and diversiﬁed the services they offer to clients in relation to governing labor standards in global supply chains. At the same time, we identify that audit ﬁrms are inﬂuencing supply chain governance at global and national levels, both through formal as well as unformal and unofﬁcial inﬂuencing practices.
3.1. Expansion of labor governance services
Because labor governance services do not comprise stand-alone departments in Big Four ﬁrms, and as such are not subject to precise reporting, we cannot report on the total growth of these services in exact quantitative terms. However, interviews and proxy data from annual reports reveal growth and diversiﬁcation in labor gover-nance services among all of the Big Four. An interviewee from Company B described:
The proportion of our businesses represented by these services has certainly grown over time, especially within the last two years as a lot of companies realize they need to get a human trafﬁcking and modern slavery state-ment published and they don’t know how to do that or where to begin really, so it’s deﬁnitely grown.4
Our examination of company annual reports similarly revealed growth across the key departments that offer labor governance services. For instance, all fourﬁrms offer some labor governance advisory services within their consulting departments, and these have had high growth over the last few years–up 16 percent at PwC UK and
6.4 percent at Deloitte UK in 2016 (Agnew 2015a,b, 2016; Rapoport 2016).
In addition to labor governance services comprising a growing proportion of overall business, our research documents the diversiﬁcation and broadening of transnational labor governance services. At all four ﬁrms, due diligence services in relation to human trafﬁcking and modern slavery comprised the most signiﬁ -cant area of expansion.5Again, while Big Fourﬁrms have offered more general services for human rights for over two decades, they have only very recently introduced services to assist companies to detect, prevent, and address human trafﬁcking and modern slavery in global supply chains. The Big Four began to engage with the anti-trafﬁcking and anti-slavery agenda in 2011–2012, and there has been a signiﬁcant upsurge in
their services since 2015 (summarized in Table 1). Representatives from all ﬁrms noted the importance of recent national legislation –especially in the US and the UK – as the impetus to expand labor governance
The boom in Big Four service provision in this area has helped to facilitate increasing disclosure by compa-nies regarding their social and labor practices. The Conference Board, Global Reporting Initiative, and Bloom-berg’s Sustainability Practices Dashboard measure disclosure by large public companies on environmental and
social practices. In 2016, it demonstrated a slight increase in social sustainability disclosure among global ﬁrms, as “some of the greatest increases in disclosure were among social practices, particularly those related to labor
standards”(The Conference Board 2016) (see Fig 1).
We also examine the degree to which Big Fourﬁrms are reaping these opportunities for expanded labor governance services by looking at uptake of Big Four services in the context of labor governance and sus-tainability issues in global supply chains. As a plausibility probe we examine the most recent CSR reports and policy material of a sample of companies, looking for evidence of Big Four engagement. We focus on UK disclosure legislation, and copy a sample of ﬁrms by LeBaron and Rühmkorf (2017a) who selected 25 ﬁrms active in the UK for analysis because of their size and relevance to labor abuse and forced labor issues. In this sample, 56 percent of the ﬁrms buy services from the Big Four that are related to CSR agendas, including labor issues, with PwC serving most clients in the sample. Twenty percent of theseﬁrms
Table 1 Big Four transnational labor governance services (2016) Assurance
• Assurance over and veriﬁcation of external labor standards disclosure • Conduct supplier audits
• Advise on, draft, and review human trafﬁcking and modern slavery corporate reporting and statements to ensure compliance with relevant legislation and guidelines
• Assist organizations in building and monitoring labor and human rights standards, and management processes, policies, and controls
• Supply chain mapping, advisory, and risk assessment services in relation to labor standards, including forced and child labor and human trafﬁcking
• Development and implementation of due diligence strategy and compliance programs • Assist with corrective action following supplier audits, including locating alternative suppliers • Advise internal or third party auditors on the risks of forced and child labor and human trafﬁcking • Establish Key Performance Indicators and performance measurements around human trafﬁcking, child labor
and modern slavery
• Training and e-learning for employees and suppliers
• Crisis management, investigative work, and remediation of incidents related to human rights violations and non-compliance with labor standards
do not buy from service ﬁrms for their CSR policies, while 24 percent of the ﬁrms employ service ﬁrms other than the Big Four.
3.2. Inﬂuencing practices beyond corporate service roles
The Big Four’s expanding role in transnational labor governance has not merely occurred in response to the
growing demand by companies, and their role as regulatory intermediaries has not been limited to enacting and translating rules, because they are also engaged in inﬂuencing public and private governance in formal, unforma-lized and unofﬁcial roles.
At the global level, Big Four ﬁrms have been active in inﬂuencing private regulatory processes to strengthen corporate accountability for human rights and labor standards. They have done so through active participation in the multistakeholder private governance processes that have created private governance rules, often in formalized capacities. To name a few examples, Deloitte was a founding member of the UN Global Compact and notes on its website that today, it“strongly supports the ten Global Compact principles and participates in global meetings
Figure 1 Social practice disclosure rates by S&P Global 1,200 companies, 2013–2015.Source: Generated with data from the
and a number of regional Global Compact Networks”(Deloitte 2017b). EY has also helped the UN Global
Com-pact with their guidance.7Deloitte’s Managing Director of Global Public Policy, Charles Heeter, was Chairman of
the Business and Industry Advisory Committee (BIAC) to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), and contributed to the 2011 re-write of the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enter-prises (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development 2014). Deloitte professionals have also con-tributed to the OECD Corporate Governance Principles (Deloitte 2017c). EY is a key advisor to the Shift Project, a major initiative launched in 2011 to implement the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, chaired by John Ruggie and funded by the UK, Norway, Netherlands, and Swedish governments and the Open Society Foundation (Shift Project 2017a).
In addition to inﬂuencing due diligence standards in the global governance arena, the Big Four have also sought to inﬂuence relevant national legislation. As mentioned in Section 2, our research has focused on the activities of the Big Four in inﬂuencing the UK Modern Slavery Act (2015). These are summarized in Table 2.
As mentioned, the Big Four’s political activities have to date been underemphasized in the literature, and
cru-cially, such activities extend beyond the inﬂuencing roles typically emphasized in the literature, such as transla-tion, mediatransla-tion, implementatransla-tion, and monitoring. Our research suggests that audit ﬁrms’ involvement in UK
policymaking toward new disclosure legislation has been signiﬁcant. In particular,ﬁrms have sought to inﬂuence the UK Modern Slavery Act Section 54 on Transparency in Supply Chains, which requires certain companies to publish an annual slavery and human trafﬁcking statement and set out“what steps organisations have taken to
ensure modern slavery is not taking place in their business or supply chains” (UK Home Ofﬁce 2015a). All Big
Fourﬁrms were involved in the development of this legislation and although their contributions are summarized in Table 2, it is worth brieﬂy describing their key contributions as these shed further light into their recent politi-cal activities.
The Big Four provided input at various stages of the policymaking process, from the early Draft Bill to the ﬁnal statutory guidance on the Transparency in Supply Chains section that followed the passage of the Act. In a blog on PwC’s website, a company representative, for instance, describes that he was “involved in the Modern
Slavery Act from the initial consultations in 2014 right through to contributing to theﬁnal guidance document”
(Shaw-Brown 2016). The inﬂuencing activities of audit ﬁrms have involved both ofﬁcial, publicly visible and informal, more hidden practices.
Early on in the process, a representative of Deloitte submitted evidence to the Parliamentary Joint Committee on the draft Modern Slavery Bill urging that the legislation should require companies to: commission audits of their supply chains; to“prove, in the event of an issue, that appropriate steps had been taken to minimise risk of
slavery within the supply chain;”and to publish league tables“indicating a company’s supply chain slavery risk
and act as a mechanism by which companies continually seek to improve their anti-slavery approach,” among
other measures (UK Joint Select Committee 2014). KPMG, PwC, and EY (through the Shift Project) are thanked by the Home Ofﬁce in its statutory guidance on Transparency in Supply Chains for“supporting the development
of this guidance”(UK Home Ofﬁce 2015b, p. 42).
Signiﬁcantly, the Big Four have highlighted their political inﬂuence over the Act as a marketing tool for their services. For instance, in brieﬁng material promoting their labor governance services, PwC note that “Our team
understand the legal requirements and Government’s expectations of the Act. Having contributed to the
develop-ment of the Practical guide, we understand the intentions of Governdevelop-ment” (PwC UK 2015, p. 4). In short, far
Table 2 Big Fourﬁrms inﬂuence on the UK Modern Slavery Act
Deloitte EY KPMG PwC
Submission of written evidence to Parliament X
Co-hosted events with government or NGOs X X X X
Contributed to developing legislation and guidance X X
Financial contribution to government X X X X
Publications about Act X X X X
from merely responding to the new market demand triggered by the Act, the Big Fourﬁrms have pushed for the Act and have sought to inﬂuence governmental regulators making decisions about its substance from the outset.
The Big Four’s efforts to inﬂuence governmental regulators are underscored by theirﬁnancial and non-cash
donations. The lacking transparency surrounding these contributions makes it difﬁcult to ascertain whether and to what extent Big Four contributions impact policymaking. Nevertheless, it is notable that data from the UK Electoral Commission reveals that the Big Four have given sizable cash and non-cash (ie. consultancy services and staff costs) resources to UK political parties and Members of Parliament: Deloitte reported£696,238.56, EY reported £110,564.08, KPMG reported £2,416,418.04, and PwC reported£2,695,121.09 (The Electoral Commis-sion 2017). One form that these contributions take is that of secondments to government ofﬁces, wherein Big Four employees work alongside civil services for limited periods of time. Given our interest in the Big Four’s
inﬂuence over the Modern Slavery Act, it is potentially signiﬁcant that at least some of the Big Four’s political
contributions in the last few years have been directed toward the Home Ofﬁce, the branch of government behind the Act. The Home Ofﬁce has reportedly “seconded less thanﬁve people from consultancy ﬁrms including the
Big Four in the last three ﬁnancial years” (Moore 2016). But again, the lacking transparency surrounding these
secondments, as well as other donations, makes it difﬁcult to assess the precise role that they enable the Big Four to play in British policymaking. At the very least, that the Big Four are channeling sizable resources into the UK Government underscores the need to look further at their political inﬂuence.
A ﬁnal avenue through which Big Four ﬁrms have sought to inﬂuence the anti-slavery political agenda is through partnership with NGOs toward events and publications on modern slavery. Our interviews and docu-mentary analysis revealed partnerships between the Big Four and leading anti-slavery NGOs, including Free the Slaves, the Global Fund to End Slavery, and the Walk Free Foundation. These partnerships have taken many forms, ranging from pro bono work by Big Four ﬁrms for the NGOs to the hosting of events and co-publication of reports about combatting slavery.
By submitting evidence to Parliament, inﬂuencing the legislation and guidance, publishing about the Act, con-tributing cash and non-cash resources, and collaborating with NGOs, the Big Four have positioned themselves as key stakeholders in regulatory processes to create new legislation to combat modern slavery and have deepened and legitimized their role as governance actors. Their success in doing so is underscored by the fact that toward the end of the legislative process of the Modern Slavery Act, the government solicited their input on the sub-stance of theﬁnal version of the supply chains portion of the Act. For instance, a representative of Company A told us that her company’s contribution to the supply chain guidance was prompted by a request from the
[T]he government or the Home Ofﬁce rang up my colleague [Adam] and said“we are writing something on
a big piece of legislation on human rights which will require businesses to respond” and they wanted
[Adam’s] interpretation of how businesses would respond and whether the wording was correct. So Adam…
had one or two meetings with the government to help them understand what would be easy and straightfor-ward and what would be hard and difﬁcult for companies responding to the legislation. He kind of commen-ted on behalf of Company A and on behalf of our clients on how the legislation would go down with businesses in Britain.8
These dynamics highlight the complexity of the Big Four’s role as regulatory intermediaries. First, as noted,
policy involvement takes a variety of forms, including both formal and informal (both“unformalized”and“ unof-ﬁcial”) channels of Big Four inﬂuence on regulators. Second, Big Fourﬁrms come into contact with regulators in
different roles: as experts on a policy issue; as regulatory intermediaries through, for instance, assurance provi-sion; and as unofﬁcial spokespersons for “the industry position”on particular policy issues. The combination of
the Big Four’s perceived independence and neutrality, and their proximity to large consumer-facing companies,
therefore make them a convenient and important industry ally for the government. In addition, their roles as ser-vice providers may render certain policy options more efﬁcient and resilient. Because their inﬂuencing activities remain substantively conﬁdential, however, and because their multiple roles are difﬁcult to disentangle, the Big Four’s political behavior is less visible, and their political agenda is more challenging to decipher, than that of a
unanswered: What kind of transnational labor governance do Big Fourﬁrms seek to achieve through all these inﬂuencing practices? In the next section we address this question, through an exploration of a case study of one of the Big Four.
4. Deloitte and the politics of modern slavery governance
In this section, we focus on the character of transnational labor governance advanced by auditﬁrms, as documen-ted above. We do so by examining the activities and policy preferences advanced by one Big Fourﬁrm, Deloitte, in greater depth and make three key arguments. First, that Deloitte has recently become a highly visible player in the anti-slavery governance arena in the US and UK. Second, that it has done so in part through unformal and unofﬁcial inﬂuencing practices. Third, such practices are linked to a broader political agenda that steers NGOs, policymakers, and other governance actors toward the soft-law side of the spectrum of legal possibilities with respect to transnational labor governance.
In theﬁrst case, Deloitte has recently become a highly visible player in the anti-slavery governance arena. This is evident through their involvement in the processes that led to the UK Modern Slavery Act, which reached royal assent on 26 March 2015 after being intensely debated by policy-shapers during a three-year process. The Act was sponsored by then Home Secretary now Prime Minister Theresa May and Parliamentary Under Secretary (Home Ofﬁce) Lord Bates. It came on the heels of over a decade of NGO pressure on the government to more adequately implement their obligations under the 1956 United Nations Supplementary Convention on the Aboli-tion of Slavery, the Slave Trade, and InstituAboli-tions and Practices Similar to Slavery and Palermo Protocol (which they ratiﬁed in 2006). NGO pressure intensiﬁed in 2009 with the creation of the Anti-Trafﬁcking Monitoring Group, a UK-wide NGO coalition established to monitor the government’s response to the Council of Europe
Convention on Action against Trafﬁcking in Human Beings. The Monitoring Group, alongside dozens of other groups, were actively involved from the outset of the regulatory process that culminated in the Act.
Indeed, NGOs have been demanding that the UK government take action to address modern slavery for sev-eral decades. Their key demands have focused around the need for the government to: increase victim protection; hold UK-based companies accountable for labor exploitation in supply chains; end labor abuse in the UK by strengthening labor protection and workers’ rights; eliminate restrictive immigration policies (such as those that
tie domestic workers to one employer); and expand the labor inspection authority, and the budget and remit of agencies that license labor providers, who are closely linked to forced labor in the UK context.
The involvement of intermediaries like Deloitte with this coalition is relatively recent. Whereas prior to 2011, Deloitte was not active in anti-slavery activities or regulation, following the implementation of diligence guide-lines at the global level and the subsequent passage of inﬂuential legislation, such as the 2012 California Trans-parency in Supply Chains Act, the organization has become a highly visible player in the anti-slavery governance arena in the US and UK.
Deloitte has sought to inﬂuence modern slavery governance through a diverse range of unformalized and unofﬁcial inﬂuencing activities, including hosting events, giving speeches, publishing reports on modern slavery, and partnering with high-proﬁle stakeholders. These activities have been facilitated by the organization’s
multi-faceted role within this governance arena, encompassing lobbying, collective action coordination, and service pro-vision roles. Table 3 summarizes Deloitte’s role and recent activities.
4.1. Deloitte’s anti-slavery activities
A key strategy through which Deloitte has positioned itself as a key player in the anti-slavery governance arena is through unformal and unofﬁcial inﬂuencing practices. Since 2013, the organization has hosted events to convene
“global public- and private-sector leaders to work together to address the issue of modern slavery in supply
chains”(Deloitte 2017c). Major governance actors involved in these events include the UK Home Ofﬁce, the US
50,000 people–where a Deloitte representative spoke at an event called“Slavery in the 21st Century: What Role
Do You Play?”
Over the last few years, Deloitte has collaborated with several leading anti-slavery and anti-trafﬁcking NGOs. For instance, they have partnered with Polaris, a Washington DC-based NGO to create a public awarenessﬁlm (Polaris 2018) and have provided pro bono services to the Global Fund to End Slavery (US Chamber of Com-merce 2018). Partnering with organizations at the forefront of activism and advocacy on modern slavery has helped Deloitte to position itself as part of the global coalition recently spurred on by the United Nations Sustain-able Development Goals to“end slavery by 2030.”These unformal and unofﬁcial inﬂuencing practices have been
linked to a broader political agenda, most clearly captured in their effort to“steer”stakeholders toward a shared
regulatory agenda through their report,The Freedom Ecosystem.
As we document further, the regulatory agenda advanced by Deloitte differs markedly from that advanced by the early coalition to inﬂuence the UK government described above. This is signiﬁcant because, as mentioned ear-lier, even if we understand the Big Fourﬁrms’interest in this legislation as a means of expanding or protecting
their service markets, then their inﬂuencing practices could still be in service of different policy options with regard to due diligence. Within the policy category of due diligence legislation, different options are available, varying in, among others, hard-law nature and levels of discretion for theﬁrm. Thus, due diligence in and of itself still entails a variety of politically relevant choices. Moreover, having an auditﬁrm’s self-interest–in terms of its
regulatory intermediary service market position–inform thisﬁrm’s political agenda does not yet predict what its
position could be if it were to seek to inﬂuence this regulation. It isn’t clear, for instance, whether an auditﬁrm
would bargain for hard-law or soft-law, more or less discretionary language on ﬁrm requirements, more or less multistakeholder inclusiveness in decisionmaking, and so on. It is therefore important to examine the substance of the policy agenda advanced by Big Fourﬁrms, and in this case, Deloitte.
4.2. The Freedom Ecosystem
Deloitte’s most signiﬁcant effort to become involved in and to inﬂuence anti-slavery governance has been the
proposal of a blueprint through which stakeholders (including Deloitte) can“align on a policy agenda and
collec-tively advocate for local, sub-national, national, and international policy change” on modern slavery (Deloitte
Consulting 2015, p. 34). In October 2015, Deloitte published a report with NGO Free the Slaves entitled The Freedom Ecosystem: How the Power of Partnership Can Help Stop Modern Slavery,in which they propose to unify stakeholders around a plan of action of market-based incrementalist actions to combat slavery. As they describe,
“Rather than seeking silver bullets, organizations looking to contribute to the eradication of slavery should aim to
take incremental steps to improve the status quo”(Deloitte Consulting 2015, p. 5). This report steers NGOs,
pol-icymakers, and other governance actors toward the soft-law side of the spectrum of legal possibilities with respect to transnational labor governance.
The report contains a“[d]ata, funding, and strategic policy positioning playbook”for the Freedom Ecosystem,
which outlines appropriate action and tactics for actors, including business, consumers, labor organizers,
Table 3 Deloitte and Modern Slavery Governance
Role Key activities
Lobbyist • Shaping legislation, f.e. submitting evidence on Modern Slavery Act to Parliament (see Table 2) • Thought leadership on modern slavery through speeches within governance forums, including the World
• Efforts to inﬂuence activities of NGOs, policymakers, and other stakeholders Agent of collective
• Organizing events on modern slavery, often in conjunction with government, industry, and NGO actors • Publication of articles and reports advocating for incremental, market-based solutions to modern slavery
and human trafﬁcking
• Proposing blueprints for collective multistakeholder action to address modern slavery
Service provider • Anti-slavery services provision for public sector organizations, including US Federal Law Enforcement, US Department of Health & Human Services, and European Commission
• Provision of advisory services (often pro bono) to anti-slavery philanthropic organizations and NGOs, including the Global Fund to End Slavery
• Provision of anti-slavery services for private sector organizations (as summarized in Table 1)
policymakers and enforcers, and service providers. The report states that it offers a“collective-action framework
centered on building the scale and connectivity of anti-slavery efforts across the freedom ecosystem” (Deloitte
Consulting 2015, p. 10).
TheFreedom Ecosystemreport clearly positions business as part of the solution to modern slavery, rather than the problem. It promotes the role of businesses in advocacy, claiming that it will not be possible to eradicate modern slavery without businesses and investors working alongside NGOs to “abolish practices that challenge
the best intentions to promote a freer world”(Deloitte Consulting 2015, p. 5). It also promotes deep engagement
between NGOs and businesses, rather than an NGO watchdog role. For instance, although NGOs’ naming and
shaming of businesses who bear responsibility for incidents of forced labor has been a key driving force behind policymakers’ accelerating interest in modern slavery, the report suggests that to be effective allies, NGOs should
work with business and others to“align on common goals; build mutual ownership; and create scalable solutions”
(Deloitte Consulting 2015, pp. 5–6). Notably, the vision of the problem of modern slavery advanced in the report
does not include the barriers posed by businesses themselves. Rather, the list of barriers to overcome by 2030 includes“prevailing gaps in collecting and sharing data;” “limited resources to address slavery;”and “a
challeng-ing policy environment”(Deloitte Consulting 2015, pp. 11–13). Left off the list are the obstacles that NGOs have
been pointing to for over a decade, including: outsourcing-based business models that create demand for forced labor, corporate power, purchasing practices, and well-documentedﬂaws in private governance systems that allow forced labor to thrive in global supply chains (Appelbaum & Lichtenstein 2016; Asia Floor Wage Cam-paign 2016).
Where business is concerned, the report leans to the soft-law side of the spectrum of legal possibilities. The report contains several stories wherein businesses have used private governance solutions to address problems, including a case of Coca-Cola (once notorious for being implicated in anti-union violence in Colombia). The report does mention the role and utility of law within the ecosystem; however, the focus is on soft transparency legislation. The report advocates for the proliferation of these laws, noting,“countries around the world have an
opportunity to learn from the experiences in California and United Kingdom as pioneers in this space”(Deloitte
2015, p. 28). More hard law versions of due diligence and disclosure (such as the French) are not promoted. Although NGOs have long called for governments to create concrete targets for businesses to report on to demonstrate that they are making progress in eradicating forced labor in their global supply chains (cf. International Corporate Accountability Roundtable 2012), this demand is not featured within the Freedom Ecosystem agenda. Rather, the next steps featured in the report’s “Call to Action” are “creating a professional
association, mobilizing resources through strategic alliances, and uniting around a common policy agenda”(2015,
p. 34). Because the report’s vision of proper labor governance is limited to policy goals that all“allies”(including
businesses) can agree on, it effectively takes many of the demands that activists have called for over recent decades off the table, especially directive regulation by government.
Although the Freedom Ecosystemreport was published over six months after the UK Modern Slavery Act reached royal assent, Deloitte began to put some of the report’s ideas into practice during the policymaking
pro-cess, by hosting events to convene and build alliances across NGOs and business groups. After the Government included a transparency in supply chains provision within the Modern Slavery Bill, for instance, Deloitte worked with the Home Ofﬁce and charity group Unseen to host a conference in London in March 2015 that brought together NGOs, business, and government. As Deloitte Partner David Barnes described:
We are delighted to be able to convene leaders from business, charities, academia and government to work together to tackle the issue of modern slavery in supply chains. The issue of modern slavery impacts everyone and takes place on a global scale. We therefore believe that it is crucial to bring together such a range of attendees as only through working together can we really start to tackle the problem. (UK Home Ofﬁce 2015c)
Notably, the CEO of the charity Unseen, who also chairs the Joint Strategy Group on Human Trafﬁcking for the UK Home Ofﬁce and worked closely with the government on the Modern Slavery Bill, is also an associate of Deloitte UK.9He has been outspoken about the need for NGOs to be a partner to business rather than a critical watchdog. As he writes in aHufﬁngton Postarticle,“castigating business isnotthe way forward…Business
The event modeled and disseminated Deloitte’s agenda for transnational labor governance, with sessions
focusing on how technology and private governance tools could be used by companies to address forced labor.10 Importantly, multistakeholder events convened by Deloitte have sought to push the societal coalition seeking to combat slavery toward private governance solutions premised upon incrementalism and away from more trans-formative models of change. This was captured in our interviews, when a company representative described their vision and motivation as follows:
As Deloitte continues to support The Freedom Ecosystem by bringing stakeholders together, Deloitte could play a role in setting examples for promoting transparency and providing thought leadership to more clearly deﬁne what incremental steps are imperative to support business practices that challenge the status quo and ﬁght against injustices like slavery.11
In short, through these collective-action oriented activities, Deloitte has sought to forward its own vision of appropriate and effective labor governance.
In part, Deloitte has hosted anti-slavery events to inﬂuence the UK Modern Slavery Act and its implementa-tion. But equally, if not more important is their aim to inﬂuence the future of transnational labor governance and the course of policymaking in other jurisdictions. The company has been quite transparent about their aim to inﬂuence politics in these ways, noting on their website:“Deloitte actively participates in dynamic regulatory
dis-cussions around the world, proactively contributing to the regulatory dialogue, promoting investor conﬁdence, and emphasizing cross-border consistency” (Deloitte 2017c). As they have proactively contributed to the
anti-slavery regulatory dialogue, they have steered and inﬂuenced it in various ways. This is important given that soci-etal coalitions around the world have been pushing for many years, and continue to push, for a very different type of labor governance. Deloitte’s political behavior could be causing the policymaking processes spurred by
these coalitions to change course.
No doubt these activities have helped Deloitte to attract new clients in both the public and private sectors. According to the company website, Deloitte has recently provided anti-slavery services for a number of public sector organizations and private companies. But in addition to expanding the market for their services, Deloitte’s
anti-slavery activities have also promoted a political agenda that reinforces particular forms of public and private governance.
In this article, we have argued that the Big Four serviceﬁrms are much more politically active in regulatory pol-icymaking processes than the literature assumes. We make three contributions to the theoretical understanding of the signiﬁcance of Big Fourﬁrms for regulatory processes. First, while acknowledging the suitability of Abbot et al.’s (2017) RIT model, we show, in line with the Special Issue’s introductory paper (Brèset al. 2018,
forthcom-ing), that the Big Four’s inﬂuencing practices as for-proﬁt regulatory intermediaries are highly varied and include
many unformalized and unofﬁcial channels of inﬂuence. Cross-fertilization with the lobbying literature in partic-ular helps us unearth how through different roles the Big Four can shape regulation as intermediaries in different ways. Second, while we agree with literature that the Big Four seem to act out of self-interest when inﬂuencing regulation, we argue that for-proﬁt regulatory intermediary agendas can substantively be more speciﬁc than merely protecting or shaping a market for services. Our case study of modern slavery governance in particular shows regulatory intermediary efforts to inﬂuence various dimensions of regulation. Third, as a consequence, to students of multistakeholder regulation in general, and transnational labor governance in particular, we seek to signal that the Big Four are now signiﬁcant actors that need to be reckoned with when studying the evolution of regulation, next to regulators, regulatory targets, beneﬁciaries, and other stakeholders.
As we have noted throughout this paper, the Big Four’s inﬂuencing activities–outlined in Section 3–seek to